Quality education for all is not a lowering of learning standards

Opinion editor’s note: The following article was submitted on behalf of several people affiliated with the Minnesota State colleges and universities system, including Chancellor Devinder Malhotra. They are listed below.

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We, the undersigned, are deeply troubled by Katherine Kersten’s Aug. 29 commentary “At Minnesota State, equity’s in, learning is out.” Kersten grossly misrepresents the intent of the Equity 2030 goal and the ways in which we, as a community of educators, are working toward it. She suggests — without evidence and using politically charged and false rhetoric — that our standards will be lowered to achieve the equity that our students deserve.

We wouldn’t dream of lowering standards for this or any other goal — doing so would cheat our students out of the quality education they all deserve. Kersten misrepresents Equity 2030 — it’s not a program to rig the numbers to show equal performance, it’s a search for education strategies to improve outcomes for underperforming students from all backgrounds.

Our students always have entered our schools with varying degrees of preparedness and support, and always will. Each of our students — of all races, economic backgrounds and geographic locations — are carefully assessed and provided the preparatory work they need to ensure they are ready to do the academic work required of their chosen program successfully. We are experts at helping many of those students succeed in receiving a credential or degree that helps them pursue their hopes and dreams.

Our students struggle with obstacles outside of the classroom such as parenting duties, multiple jobs and the details of adult life, and they always will. That is why we sometimes teach while bouncing babies on our hips, meet with students after normal work hours and provide innovative learning opportunities. The task at hand is to make sure that all of our students are benefiting from such effort. To suggest that either our students or our faculty and staff do not put forward their best efforts, or that students are held to reduced standards, is insulting.

Help-wanted signs are posted throughout the state in every sector of the economy. At Minnesota State, on all our 54 campuses, we are addressing workforce needs head on through our Equity 2030 goal (MinnState.edu/Equity2030), which was developed in 2019. Our work toward achieving this goal focuses on how Minnesota State can do a better job of ensuring that all students have the potential for success regardless of their circumstances.

While the chancellor recommended this work to the board of trustees, the need for the recommendation and its framework came out of discussions with faculty, staff and students. We are making changes to policies, procedures and practices that have inadvertently created academic gaps, and faculty, staff and students continue to have a voice in this work. To make the Equity 2030 goal a reality, we must be transparent with our data, which includes information on the gaps among students’ socioeconomic status (family income — a group that includes all students, including white), first-generation students (also a group that includes all students), and yes, race and ethnicity. Closing these gaps will also ensure we make progress in all regions of the state.

We are passionately working toward our Equity 2030 goal because it is a moral, economic and workforce imperative. It is, simply, the right thing to do for our students, our state and the future of our democracy.

Achieving the Equity 2030 goal is critical for us as a system so we can deliver upon the 2015 state statute in which the Minnesota Legislature enacted a state postsecondary attainment goal: that 70% of Minnesota adults aged 25 to 44 will have attained a postsecondary certificate or degree by 2025 (Minnesota Laws 2015, Chapter 69, Article 3, Section 6). This law recognizes that fully 75% of current and emerging jobs require some sort of postsecondary credential. The law also sets 70% attainment goals for all races/ethnicities. The state will not achieve this unless and until all education providers in the state close achievement gaps.

We also know our state is growing more diverse. These changing demographics are, and will continue to be, reflected in the state’s pool of available talent. Minnesota’s economic future depends on ensuring all Minnesotans of every economic, racial and ethnic background have access to high-quality, rigorous and affordable postsecondary programs paired with the needed support both inside and outside the classroom to find success. The Minnesota State Equity 2030 goal is working toward a day when all Minnesotans can see a bright future and a path to the middle class by participating in our diverse economy, ultimately sustaining the prosperity of Minnesota.

In short, at our 26 colleges and seven universities, we are proud of our commitment to our workforce development role, and our commitment to both equity and academic excellence. We soundly reject Kersten’s suggestion that progress in one comes only at the expense of progress in the other.

Signatories to this article are Devinder Malhotra, Minnesota State chancellor; Roger Moe, Minnesota State board chair; Jenna Chernega, Inter Faculty Organization president; Matt Dempsey, Minnesota State College Faculty acting president; Alex Kromminga, Minnesota State University Association of Administrative and Service faculty president; Kaileigh Weber, Students United state chair, and Ali Tomashek, LeadMN president.